Childrens Employment Commission 1842

Collieries In The East Of Fife

The following extracts are from the report by R F Franks to the Children's Employment Commission on the East of Scotland District which was published in 1842  

Drumcarra Colliery

- parish of Cameron, county of Fife. - (Messrs. Williamson and Co., Lessees.)

No.427. Mr. Alexander Felfer, overseer:
We employ about 50 persons in the mine; 15 are under 18 years of age, and nine boys 10, 12, and 14 years of age; very young people are of no use here, as much caution is required from the nature of our coal, which frequently is on fire and we find it trouble-some and expensive to keep it at bay. The works were stopped for some years from the wasting fire. We have no carburetted hydrogen gas in the mine, but much choke-damp in warm weather which we drive out by ventilation. Our pit is descended by one shaft 65 fathoms deep and it is divided by a partition. The air is coursed along the workings in the usual way. No accidents have taken place from the stifle which the burning produces. One man was crushed by the fall of a stone in the mine within the last two years.

The usual number of hours which our colliers are wrought do not exceed eight or nine, and when they work by double shifts they rarely work more than six and seven hours.

As children are little use in the mines before 12 or 13 years of age, I would recommend 13 years as the most suitable time for their being first employed.

No females have ever wrought in this part of Fife, and many of our present colliers were labourers in the fields; they are generally good workmen, although they are called grass-colliers.

No.428. Alexander Smith, 14 years old, hewer:
Works with two brothers below on father's account, as he cannot work, often being touched in the breath. Brother and I can put out two men's work in a day, which is l5 tubs of mixed coal, equal to three tons; we get 2s. 3 1/2d. per ton for splint coal, 2s. 1d. for soft coal and 15d. per ton for panwood or lime coal. We could do very well if the work were regular, but the warm weather causes the black-damp to rise; it did so on Saturday, when we left.

The pit is much troubled with fire-stifle, which sends the men to sleep; it also causes them to spew much; when the men are overcome with the stifle we take them into the fresh air, which brings back their senses.

I have been below three years; was at Donbrae school before; was taught to read and write. [Writes very badly, and deficient in religious knowledge.] Have two sisters; one is married to a gardener, and the other at service at Mr. Mitchell's at Donbrae. Mother was a weaver's daughter.

No.429. Andrew Ferres, 17 years old, hewer:
Began first to work on coal three years ago; left farm service, as the coal work was likely to pay better; can earn 2s. 6d. to 3s. a-day when work is regular; the average through the year I think is eight days in the fortnight. Service is preferable to coal-work but my wages were only 4s. 1d. a-year, and I had to clothe myself; would not have left, only father wished me and little brother is now below opening the traps; he is 12 years old and been down nine months.
[The father is afflicted with bad breath and the mother has been dead four years; the daughters, - two out at service, one (18 years old) keeps house.]


Name of Mines
Proprietor or Lessee
St. AndrewsKilconquharGrange CollieryPeter Keddie, Esq.
St. AndrewsKilconquharRires CollieryMr. Dalgleish
St. AndrewsCarnbeeKellie Castle Colliery
Mr. Hastler
St. AndrewsKennoway
Kilnnox Colliery
Mr. Fernie
St. AndrewsCameron
Greigston Colliery
Messrs. Williamson and Co.
St. AndrewsCameron Winthank CollieryWhyte Melville, Esq.
Burn Turc CollieryMr. D. Thompson
Coule Colliery
Mr. Mitchell
Ducie Colliery
Messrs. Langdale and Co.
Pilmuir Colliery
Captain Wemyss
KirkaldyWemyssMethel Colliery
Captain Wemyss

The collieries in the district of St. Andrews and Cupar are worked to very limited extent, and no females or very young children are wrought below. The only novelty that attracts attention is the peculiar character of the coal at Drumcarra, Largo Ward and Teases, which spontaneously fires. At Drumcarra a portion of the coal-wall is on fire, and the smoke causes not unfrequently a complete cessation of labour from the "stifle" arising therefrom.

It is presumed that so much mineral is disseminated through this particular section of the coal-field that the coal may be generally termed pyritiferous. If therefore, a quantity of pyritous matter be suffered to accumulate, spontaneous combustion naturally takes place, - an accident of not unfrequent occurrence in similar formations in English mines as also those of the Brora Coal-field in the north of Scotland, the working of which for some years has been abandoned.